Thursday, April 30, 2015

The New Normal?

Film: Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

I’m currently reading the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is about rapid cognition—about how we often get a very deep feeling of something from a very short glimpse, what Gladwell calls “thin slicing.” In the chapter I just finished, he talks about the show All in the Family and about how it tested poorly with audiences initially with the pilot, but was put on air anyway because its network could afford to take a chance on it. The show, of course, was a huge hit. The main reason it tested poorly was that it was simply too new. Audiences didn’t know how to come at it; they couldn’t put it into a specific category. I think the same thing is true for me of Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.

I honestly don’t know how to come at this film. There were times while watching where I felt as if I was under assault by the film. Long stretches are a constant barrage of noise and movement, chatter, swearing, fantasy mixed with reality. It feels like there is so much to concentrate on and so few guidelines to tell what is real from what is false. The film plays merry hob with time, moving seamlessly during a single pan from early in the day to later in the same day without a single transition. It all does fit together, but so much is simply assumed of the audience to make sense of it without much in the way of help.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Try Lunesta

Film: Sleepless in Seattle
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

Off the top of my head, I can think of three movies that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made together: the terrible Joe Vs. the Volcano, the derivative You’ve Got Mail, and today’s viewing, Sleepless in Seattle. It wouldn’t be saying much to say that this is the best of the three. Sleepless in Seattle follows a lot of the romantic movie conventions as well as makes a good deal of hay with referencing An Affair to Remember. But it was also co-written by Nora Ephron and directed by her as well, which gives it immediate credibility.

It’s also a hard movie to classify. IMDB calls this a “comedy, drama, romance” and I agree only with two of those labels. Certainly there are comedy moments here, but this is not a film I would specifically label as a comedy. It’s heavy on the drama, heavy on the romance, and as with a lot of Ephron’s best work, the comedy comes naturally from the situations and from the characters, and never feels forced.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On the Road Again

Film: Road to Morocco
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

A film like Road to Morocco is difficult to deal with from a modern perspective. It is at once both fun and frustrating, both funny and infuriating. All of the Bing and Bob road movies are entertaining and this one has the added bonus of being entirely self-aware. But they’re also racist to a certain extent and flush with the sort of whitewashing frequent of the era. What else can you call it when a movie has both Dorothy Lamour and Anthony Quinn playing Arabs?

Like all of the road movies, we get our heroes abandoned, shipwrecked, or otherwise tossed out into the wilderness. In this case, Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby) and Orville “Turkey” Jackson (Bob Hope) are tossed off a ship and after a little panic, wash up in Morocco. The boys are hungry and broke, but soon discover that the mentally afflicted are treated as holy they try to work up a mentally damaged act that backfires. Later, the two sit in a restaurant and gorge themselves with plans to run out on the check. Instead, Jeff is approached by a large man and arranges to sell Orville into slavery for $200 with plans to make enough money to eventually buy him back.

Monday, April 27, 2015

This Might Leave a Czar

Film: Anastasia
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

A while ago, I commented on just how good 1935 was for Charles Laughton; the man was in three movies nominated for Best Picture, one of which won. That’s a hell of a good year. Yul Brynner had a good year in 1956. He walked away with an Oscar for The King and I and acted across from Ingrid Bergman in her Oscar-winning performance in Anastasia. Okay, I’ll admit that I’m prone to like Yul Brynner in general. I’m not sure if it’s the bald head, the piercing stare, or the Mongolian-tinged accent, but I’ll watch him in just about anything.

Anastasia is epic in everything but length in the sense that this is massive, sweeping story about history and romance with any number of plot twists. And like many an epic, this is a story deeply involved in Russian history. It seems impossible to touch on any aspect of Russian history without the story becoming something massive, at least in tone and scope. Anastasia tells one of the great myths of Russian history post-revolution. It’s well known that the family of Tsar Nicholas II was killed by the Bolsheviks, but there was also the story that the tsar’s daughter Anastasia somehow survived the slaughter. What then would happen if Anastasia Nicolaevna had survived?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hail to the Chief

Film: Primary Colors
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

There are a good number of political dramas on the various Oscars lists that I’m watching. I don’t generally seek them out, but Primary Colors is one that I actually saw in the theater. I remember it; my wife was about five months pregnant with our first daughter and I was pretty much willing to do anything to keep her happy. This is the first I’ve seen it in 17 years, and yet I remember specific things about the film. That bodes either good or ill, depending.

Fortunately, it bodes pretty well. I remembered Primary Colors favorably, and I liked it on this watch, too. This is more or less the story of the governor of an unnamed small Southern state running for president in the 1990s. The governor, Jack Stanton (John Travolta) seems to connect well with the general population. His wife Susan (Emma Thompson) is emotionally damaged but tough. He appears honest, caring, and forthright. He’s also an inveterate womanizer with scandals bubbling up, allegations of drug use, and was a draft dodger during the Vietnam War. In other words, this is more or less the story of the first Clinton campaign without it being specifically called that overtly.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dog Days

Film: Bolt
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

I went into Bolt specifically with the thought that I probably wouldn’t like it a ton. This was a film that had to win me over. While there are certainly exceptions, Disney animation went through a dark period, and some of those movies (see Brother Bear, for instance) were, well, pretty awful. Even a lot of good non-Pixar Disney films suffer from being flatly predictable throughout. So Bolt very much started out as “I need to check off this box” instead of a film I was looking forward to seeing.

After an initial problem with the DVD, I settled in and ironed a bunch of shirts while I watched. Bolt follows the tried and true “plenty of make believe, but be true to yourself” Disney fable, in this case pretty literally—more literally than usual, in fact. We start with an introduction to Penny (Miley Cyrus before she went all “former Disney star” crazy), who gets a new dot from a pet shelter. We learn that this dog, Bolt (voiced by John Travolta during scenes without humans), has been given a variety of super powers by Penny’s father to protect her against his nemesis, Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell). There’s a solid action sequence of Bolt and Penny avoiding Calico’s many minions and a quick primer on Bolt’s powers.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Caught in a Bland Romance

Film: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I was of two minds going into Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. On the one hand, I like William Holden in pretty much everything I’ve seen him in, so that’s on the positive side. On the other hand, it also stars Jennifer Jones, who I’ve never liked much and who always comes across as wooden on screen, at least in my opinion. I figured this was going to be pretty drippy, but I’m willing to put up with a lot for the sake of William Holden. Anyway, I needed to watch it sooner or later.

Dr. Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones) is Eurasian. While being of mixed race in Hong Kong in the post-World War II years is not specifically a problem, miscegenation is an issue. Eurasians are not quite Asian and not quite European, but are considered far more Asian than European. Cavorting with Europeans is fine socially but not romantically. So, of course that’s exactly where we are going to go here with the arrival of Mark Elliott (William Holden), an American journalist currently stationed in Hong Kong. Things are complicated by Mark being married but separated, adding an additional and unnecessary complication to the budding romance.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Film: My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I probably shouldn’t enjoy My Big Fat Greek Wedding nearly as much as I do, but it’s an easy film to like. Romantic comedies are a genre that tends to leave me cold, except for those rare few that manage to truly be both romantic and funny. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of those rare films. There are plenty of things here that are genuinely funny and moments of genuine sweetness that come across as honest rather than manufactured. That’s a rarity, and it’s special when it happens.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a massive hit when it was released, and is currently the second-highest grossing independent film in Hollywood history (Paranormal Activity eventually beat it). There’s a reason for that, and I can only imagine that a lot of its business was repeat viewings from people who enjoyed it the first time. I’ve liked it every time I’ve seen it, too. It’s not only entertaining on a first viewing; it holds up well, too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Another Boring Knight

Film: Ivanhoe
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Because of my regular Friday posts, I tend to look for times when I can complete a particular Oscar category in a particular year. That’s the sole reason I watched Ivanhoe today. This isn’t one that I wasn’t looking forward to for a very specific reason: Robert Taylor. I have consistently found Robert Taylor to be so utterly dull that he makes Franchot Tone look like Captain Charisma. He’s bland on a saltine cracker. He’s Blandy McBlanderstein, and anything that stars him starts with a strike against it in my opinion.

Ivanhoe is essentially the same story as The Adventures of Robin Hood from a completely different perspective. So, while there’s still a Richard the Lionheart and still a King John and even a Locksley, most of the other familiar characters—Maid Marian, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Little John—aren’t a part of this at all. Instead, we’re going to see the story from the perspective of Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor), a Saxon knight who accompanied Richard on the Crusades. On his way home, Ivanhoe discovers that Richard has been imprisoned and that the asked-for ransom is 150,000 marks of silver. Worse, since Richard’s brother John (Guy Rolfe) is usurping the throne, there is no plan to pay that ransom and return Richard to England.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Your Face Picks Movies (Jason): The Signal

Film: The Signal
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

This is the fourth in a series of monthly reviews suggested by the guys at Your Face. This is Jason’s second pick.

There are two movies called The Signal released in the last ten years, both of which seem to have horror elements. I confirmed with Jason that this was the one I was supposed to watch, and I needn’t have worried. A couple of minutes in, I was pretty sure that picked the right one. It wasn’t too hard to figure out that this was the sort of film that Jason would not only watch and love, but would also want to share with other people.

Evidently, The Signal borrows pretty heavily from Stephen King’s book Cell, but never acknowledges this. My guess is that since this was made with a budget of about $50,000, they couldn’t even afford the meeting. Essentially, all of humanity’s electronic media, at least in the city of Terminus, have simultaneously begun broadcasting a signal that intensifies the negative emotions of whomever encounters it. Since it comes through the television, the radio, and cell phones, this means pretty much everybody.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

He'll Steel Your Heart

Film: The Valley of Decision
Format: DVD from Mokena Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop various players.

It’s hard for me to dislike Gregory Peck no matter what the movie and no matter the role. Part of it is that deep, resonant voice. Part is the man’s presence. And part of it is probably that he played Atticus Finch. With The Valley of Decision, Gregory Peck’s presence is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, though. Also along for the ride here are Lionel Barrymore, Dan Duryea, Jessica Tandy, and the great Greer Garson, who earned her fifth Best Actress nomination in as many years for this film. There’s a lot to love with a cast as deep as this one.

With The Valley of Decision, though, the love doesn’t really extend a lot further than the cast. The story here is one that is easy to see coming a mile away, provided you’ve ever seen a single movie from this era before. There are a few things we’re supposed to want by the end of this film, and so it’s not surprise that The Valley of Decision will serve those up to us no matter how convoluted the path we take to get there might become. This isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a film that you’ve almost certainly scene before in a different exterior package.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Film: Body and Soul
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

The movies have always had a love affair with sports because sports are guaranteed drama. Stick a group of people against another group of people vying for the same thing and the script writes itself. It’s the same reason that the movies are obsessed with romance and war. There’s no single sport that better exemplifies this than boxing, which is why Oscar loves boxing movies. Rocky, Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby…the list goes on. That obsession seems to have started with Body and Soul from 1947. In addition to being a good old sports drama, this is a film that dips into film noir and one that is crawling with metaphor like any good sports drama should.

Before we get started, let’s get this off the top: Body and Soul is going to go exactly where you think it’s going to go. Plenty of movies have followed the path outlined by Body and Soul, and not a small number of those involve a palooka who wants to be the champ. You know there will come a point where he probably is the champ. You know there will come a time when he realizes that his friends are just there for his money, a realization that will probably come after a raucous party. You know he’s going to be asked to throw a fight at some point, and the third act will undoubtedly come down to whether or not he decides to throw it and give up his soul or reclaim his soul in the end. This is exactly where we’re going here, but Body and Soul went there first in a lot of ways. It’s important to remember that.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Off Script: Kill, Baby...Kill!

Film: Kill, Baby…Kill! (Operazione Paura)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Over the past few years, I’ve come more and more to the conclusion that some of Italian horror is lost on me for the same reason that a lot of anime is lost on me. There’s a certain level of expectation with Italian horror that I’ll be able to fill in a lot of blanks on my own that are never filled in for me. I follow along as well as I can, and I’m generally impressed by the visual style of Italian horror, but the story often leaves me cold. That’s certainly the case with Kill, Baby…Kill!, which is another of those Italian imports that has about 100 names, including Curse of the Dead, Don’t Walk in the Park, and Curse of the Living Dead as well as its original Italian title, Operazione Paura, which translates as Operation Fear.

Kill, Baby…Kill! was directed by Mario Bava, who started his cinematic life as a cinematographer and continued to do all of his own cinematography except on a couple of films when he directed. It shows. This is certainly a pretty film and one that uses the camera well. Bava was always smart about where he put his camera and with what he shows the audience. Where he frequently seems to fall down (and Blood and Black Lace and Bay of Blood bear this out as well) is in the story department.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Film: Peggy Sue Got Married
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

What do you get when you take almost everything fun from Back to the Future and replace it with Nicolas Cage sporting a pompadour? What do you get when you take the concept of time travelling back to the 1950s/1960s and replace the directorial style of Robert Zemeckis with that of Francis Ford Coppola? You get Peggy Sue Got Married, a film that feels like a retread 20 minutes in and not in any good way. The concept behind the film is sound enough but aside from a couple of points, the concept is pretty much all it has.

Peggy Sue Bodell (Kathleen Turner) is stuck in a life she doesn’t like on the night of her 25th high school reunion. She married her high school sweetheart Charlie Bodell (Nicolas Cage) who went on to own a discount electronics store complete with crazy late-night television ads. He also turned out to be a frequent adulterer, which is the main reason he and Peggy Sue are getting a divorce. Peggy Sue attends the reunion without him, running into old friends Carol (Catherine Hicks) and Maddie (Joan Allen) as well as others from her past including high school nerd turned inventor Richard (Barry Miller) and local dentist Walter Getz (Jim Carrey). For some reason, the reunion elects a king and queen—Richard and Peggy Sue in this case—and shortly after the crown is put on her head, Peggy Sue collapses on stage.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Adventure Time

Film: The Incredibles
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I love The Incredibles. Seriously, I love this film in a way that I love few others. This is going to be another review where I don’t have much (or anything) bad to say about the film in question. This is my favorite animated film without question. It’s not only a great action and adventure film, it’s not only a unique superhero film, it’s also, despite the animation and superheroing, a film that presents one of the most realistic movie families in a very long time.

If you haven’t seen this, first of all, I feel badly for you. You’re missing a film that is top tier in every genre this belongs in and you should go watch it immediately. But just in case you haven’t seen this before, a run-through of the basics is in order. We start in the past, during a heyday of superheroes. We’re introduced to some representative heroes: Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) in a newsreel interview. Shortly thereafter, we get to see Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl in action. Oh, and we also get to see them married.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Picks from Chip: Safety Not Guaranteed

Film: Safety Not Guaranteed
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

This is the fourth in a series of twelve films suggested by Chip Lary at Tips from Chip.

Sometimes, the person in the movie can make a huge difference in my reaction to it. I’m going to just come out and say it: I don’t have an exceptionally high opinion of Aubrey Plaza, and this has nothing to do with the fact that her name sounds like a destination. Aubrey Plaza always looks to me like she’s just smelled something unpleasant. There’s something off-putting about her, which means that Safety Not Guaranteed had a strike against it going in.

Fortunately, Aubrey Plaza’s consistent impression of Daria from the MTV cartoon show of the same name is the only major strike against this film. Well, that and the fact that her character has a male name disturbingly reminiscent of that very character. Darius (Plaza) works as an intern for Seattle Magazine, an unpaid position where she takes a great deal of abuse from her boss Bridget (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and just about anyone else who isn’t an intern. At a staff meeting Jeff (Jake Johnson) proposes a story based on a classified ad asking for a volunteer to accompany the man who placed the ad to travel back in time with him. That partner is responsible for his or her own weapons, safety is not guaranteed (hence the title), and most interestingly, the person placing the ad claims to have done this once before.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Blood is Thicker than Water

Film: You Can Count on Me
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

Every family has that one person who screws up constantly, and not in little ways. Think about it for a few moments; you’ve got a brother or a sister or a cousin who regularly makes really poor life choices over and over and eventually has the rest of the family bail him or her out. If that person is you, you might want to find a different review to read. If you are one of the responsibl people who makes good choices and can’t seem to get any help when you need it while the family fuck-up keeps getting chance after chance after chance, You Can Count on Me is a film you might want to watch.

Samantha “Sammy” Prescott (Laura Linney) has made the best life for herself that she can manage. Her parents are killed in a car accident when she is still young, a tough blow that she wasn’t prepared for. She made a poor choice in the father of her son Rudy (Rory Culkin), since he ran out on them. But she’s managed to secure a good job as a loan officer at the local bank where she frequently clashes with her new boss, Brian (Matthew Broderick).

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Film: Disraeli
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes, the movies that I watch on a given day are ones I look forward to and sometimes they are just a box to check off. It’s what happens when you watch films off a master list. With Disraeli, it was very much the second type, at least until I got a little way into it. While nominated for awards in the third Oscars ceremony, Disraeli was released in 1929, making it one of the early talkies. It’s also the debut of George Arliss in talkie films and it’s a good enough debut that he won the Best Actor Oscar for this role.

This is an odd film in that it doesn’t follow the man’s whole life and it focuses on a piece of history that is unusual for the subject of a film to say the least. Benjamin Disraeli (George Arliss) is the Prime Minister of Great Britain when the film opens, and he faces a great deal of opposition for a number of reasons. Disraeli was descended from immigrants and was born a Jew (although he eventually converted to the Anglican faith), not necessarily a recipe for success in mid-late nineteenth century British politics. He was also a man of big ideas focused on not simply his own political career but on the image of his country and the state of the greater empire.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Little Hiccup

Film: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I won’t pretend like I wasn’t interested in watching How to Train Your Dragon 2. I was curious as to where the story would go after the first film. It had a good, solid base to build on; the first film is smart, funny, and had a great sense of adventure. It is one of those great kid-oriented films that manages to be just as entertaining for adults and for the same reasons. Additionally, the original film does a few things differently from the typical animated kids’ film and does those things really well. The question, then, is if the sequel holds up.

We’re back to the village of Berk, which has become a haven for dragons in the five years that have passed since the first film. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the savior of the town in the first film is essentially running away from his duties as chief-designate by his father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). Stoick wants to turn the reins of power over to Hiccup, who doesn’t want them. And again, in a piece of smart writing, this isn’t an irresponsibility thing or a function of Hiccup’s constant exploring of new lands. It’s that he doesn’t think he has the qualities his father does as a leader and that he won’t be able to handle the job the way his father does.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Fatale-est of Femmes

Film: Gone Girl
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I think the Academy hates Ben Affleck. I say this despite him having won two Oscars. Argo, which he produced, starred in, and directed, saw him unnominated as an actor or director. Things got worse with Gone Girl, a tense mystery thriller with a complex, intriguing plot. Despite a great screenplay, solid direction from David Fincher, and a solid performance from Affleck, it was nominated only for Best Actress. I can only think that Ben Affleck’s presence is to blame, because there are some nomination misses here.

That said, I’m not really sure how much I like Gone Girl. I remember people going crazy for it when it first came out, but since I rarely go to the theater, I didn’t rush off to see it. I even consider myself a fan of Fincher, so were I going to see one of the many films that were looking for nominations at the end of last year, this is one that would definitely be on my radar. This has a lot of the hallmarks of David Fincher—complex plot, tons of flashbacks, huge sections of the film designed specifically to mislead the audience…even a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross soundtrack. But there’s something about this film that’s like chewing on tinfoil.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Yowza, Yowza, Yowza

Film: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I’ve been looking forward to rewatching They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? for some time. This is one of my favorite movies of the 1960s and, for my money, contains one of the single greatest cinematic moments of its decade. I liked this movie a lot going into it, and I like it just as much now that I’ve watched it again. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? holds the record for the most Oscar nominations (9) without being nominated for Best Picture. It won’t be a shock by the end of this review that I think that was a miss and it should’ve been in contention for that award.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? concerns a dance marathon set during the Great Depression. The idea of a dance marathon is simple: take a bunch of couples and make them dance until there’s only one couple left. For this particular competition, the couples must be in constant motion with both knees off the ground constantly, except for ten minutes every two hours. It’s not long before all of our competitors are in such a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that they are capable of anything, particularly as the crowd who comes to watch them grows as the competition goes on.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Never Judge a Film by its Title

Film: Ragtime
Format: DVD from Kankakee Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

Every now and then I get reminded of something that I should remember more often. You should never judge what a movie is going to be about before you actually watch the movie. I figured that a movie called Ragtime would be a drama that centered on people playing ragtime music. I expected something akin to a Scott Joplin soundtrack and a movie that took place in dance halls and the like. That’s not what this is about, although there is a character who plays a little ragtime piano. This is far more about race and class than it is about anything else.

It’s also one of those films that has a bunch of characters who all interact with each other on different levels and in different ways. Very oddly, some of the main characters are never named and are referred to in the credits only has Father (James Olson), Mother (Mary Steenburgen), and Younger Brother (Brad Dourif). As is often the case with a film like this, it’s easier to talk about each story individually than to go with a chronological blow-by-blow.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Coming Out of the Closet

Film: Monsters, Inc.
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Monsters, Inc. is what turned me into a Pixar believer. When Toy Story was released, I didn’t have kids and both A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2 came out when my oldest daughter was just a baby. But with Monsters, Inc., Gail was three and old enough to see it and get it. So not only did this make me a Pixar believer, it was also my first Pixar film. I’ll just say it here: I think this is about as close to a perfect family film as exists. If you prefer to read angry rants, I’m not going to be complying this time. This is going to be 800-1000 words of me gushing.

For the two people who still haven’t seen it, Monsters, Inc. posits the idea that the monster in the closet in the room of a little kid is a real thing. in fact, there’s an entire monster world that has an industry that depends on the nighttime fears of children. Monsters come out of children’s closets to scare them, because the noise of the screams of frightened children is then used by the monsters as energy. Our main characters are James P. “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman), the top scarer for Monsters, Incorporated and his work partner and roommate Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). Sully is a big, furry blue and purple monster with horns who is great at scaring kids when on the clock and easygoing otherwise. Mike, a green sphere with arms and legs and a single eye is a little more intense and sometimes lost in his own delusions of grandeur.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

All the Feels

Film: Il Postino (The Postman)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

What makes you tear up while watching a film? For many people, it’s the sad stuff. For me, sad things don’t always do it to me. Certain moments seem to overload the emotional centers of my brain, though. The ending of Cinema Paradiso does it, for instance. So do the last few frames of Monsters, Inc. And, it turns out, the last 15 minutes or so of Il Postino (The Postman) do it as well. I cried like a little baby, leaking out of both sides of both eyes. Things that are overwhelmingly emotional—any emotion, it seems—are what does this to me.

Before we get into the movie itself, someone needs to explain how this works for me. Il Postino was filmed in Italian with portions in Spanish. It was nominated for Best Picture for 1995, but somehow wasn’t nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature. So it’s one of the five best years of 1995, but not one of the five best non-English films of 1995? If you needed a reason why I do the weekly Oscar posts, it’s because there are too many situations where the Academy seems to be made of mildly stupid children that need to be corrected by someone. In this case, if this happened because Italy decided that a different film was worth entering (which is evidently the case), the fault belongs to them.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Fourth Wall? What's That?

Film: The Love Parade
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Maurice Chevalier was involved, nay instrumental, in one of the weirdest sub-genres of film in history. This is the (I think) third musical I’ve seen where he plays essentially a dress soldier, the sort who looks good in a uniform but has never been (and never will be ) involved in combat. His entire reason for existence is not conquest on the battlefield, but conquest in the bedroom. I realize this came before The Smiling Lieutenant, but that’s where my thoughts went with The Love Parade, but this is a far better film than the fluff of Lubitsch’s film the next year.

Really, though, The Love Parade is what is described in the previous paragraph. Count Alfred Renard (Chevalier) is a part of the ambassador entourage to Paris of the fictional country of Sylvania. He is recalled to his country because of one too many scandals involving the high ranking women of Paris. While in Paris he has acquired a series of belt notches, an outrageous French accent, and a servant named Jacques (Lupino Lane) who has a reputation among the servant class much like Alfred does among the nobility. Jacques persuades Alfred to take him back to Sylvania with him, and off they go to Alfred’s home and what will likely be an unpleasant meeting with his queen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I'm Not Half the Man I Used to Be

Film: The Men
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

When a movie is about to go off streaming on NetFlix, I go into a little bit of panic mode. In most cases, the movies that vanish are available on disc, but having less to worry about in the queue is a good thing. Typically, this happens at the end of the month. In the case of The Men, I got a bonus day. But it was today or stick it back in the queue for this one, so it was time to pull the trigger on it.

I knew nothing about this film going in except that it was the debut film for Marlon Brando and that it was very short. So it was surprising to discover that this was not (as the NetFlix summary suggests) a film about a man recovering from “physical and emotional wounds,” but about men who became paraplegics during World War II. This sort of heavy material is always unexpected by me in a film of this vintage. I’m not sure why this is, since this comes a good four years after The Best Years of Our Lives, which didn’t pull its punches much in a lot of respects either.